Archive for November, 2009

If this doesn’t scare you- I don’t know what will

Posted in Uncategorized on November 28, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Is it possibly, the new Adam and Eve of the 21st century?



The Big Rise in Meat Consumption in East Asia and Why it Concerns Everyone

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Freaky Food, World Food on November 28, 2009 by alejandracuellar

This is a map that scales meat consumption globally. It shows that China consumes 25% of the world's meat while having 20% of the population

Amongst the growing list of environmental concerns, the rise of meat consumption in Asia is one that warrants attention. It is a phenomenon that could be easily explained by saying that as the Asian powers grow economically, so does their middle class, and so does the desire of the middle class to eat more meat. It is the inevitable trend of societies, a tragic but predictable outcome of wealth accumulation: people just want to eat more meat. This explanation is partly true, but partly and more importantly, it is overly simplistic and in being so, it ignores the golden glove of the global market.

Lester Brown, one of the founders of the Worldwatch institute put the complex relationship between growing wealth and growing desires well:

If industrialization is rapid, the loss of cropland quickly overrides the rise in land productivity, leading to a decline in grain production. The same industrialization that shrinks the cropland area also raises income, and with it the consumption of livestock products and the demand for grain. Ironically, the faster the industrialization proceeds, the more rapidly the gap widens between rising demand and falling production.

There is no better example than China to illustrate the reality of Brown’s words. Today China’s arable land is about 7% of its total land, and its population is 1.3 billion. Livestock, back when they still ate their natural diets would have required long stretches of land to feed off of. Since the industrial meat system cuts that part out of the equation and instead subjects animals to cage like spaces and uses grains and others to feed the animals, this is no longer a requirement. However, if China is to feed its growing population of animals, it will need to find this land elsewhere (i.e. look at the post on China’s land grabbing in Africa).

The point I want to stress about this issue is found between the tension of the consumer preference and the producer’s role. It is all too easy to remain oblivious to the role of the mega meat corporations in the global meat market and say that consumers are to blame for all of the market’s surges and plunges. People just want more meat again, is overly simplistic and it ignores the part that giant meat packaging companies have had on consumption. The aggressive tactics that have been utilized to open up Asian markets to American meat imports is appalling, in the past fifteen years, imports of not just meat, but the model for producing meat in the United States have been copious and unabashed.

In following posts, I will like to bring up several key points: the first will be the environmental impact of global meat consumption present and future, second I will trace the history of the big meat packing corporations (Tyson, Cargill, IBP, Smithfield), and third I will speak to the resistance in countries like South Korea against foreign meat imports.

Stone Barns: Center for Food and Agriculture

Posted in Glad to be Food on November 28, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Stepping on the farm of Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills upstate New York is first and foremost, quite beautiful. The Center for Food and Agriculture is home to the most avant-garde methods of growing food and raising animals. It is avant-garde ironically, because the methods actually take from ancient conceptions of sustaining a whole ecosystem. Throughout the 60-acres of working land there are a variety of agricultural principles applied but as Evan Thaller-Null, an intern in the farm explained, it is the idea of biodynamics that is most present in the farm’s consciousness. Biodynamics (a term coined from Rudolf Steiner’s ideas) tries to treat the farm as a self containing organism so that in a closed loop, everything is supported by each other and the health of each organism affects and is dependent on the health of everything else. Much attention is payed to seasonal and environmental factors in growing the food. This closed system allows for food to be grown organically, pesticide and hormone free.

The farm has made it its mission to be a center for education catering for young, novice and older more experienced people who wish to learn about the farm’s methods. Stone barns is a leader in new techniques and methods and people come by constantly to learn about it.

The pigs on the barn will come charge at you and try and eat your hand

The farm is only five years old, it emerged from Peggy Rockefeller’s desire to invigorate an area that had become an agricultural desert. The land used to be a dairy farm in the early 1900’s, but the high taxes on property and land had been driving out food production. Thanks to the endowment from the Rockefeller’s big bank account, the non-profit, Stone Barns is emerging as a center for agriculture and education situated only 30 miles from Manhattan. It also survives on volunteer help from students who wish to learn invaluable lessons. “I’ve gotten the chance to work with the most knowledgeable mentor in the field, and that is not easy to come by in agriculture,” said Evan about his internship in the farm.

There is a restaurant, Blue Hill located on the property that serves food from the farm at relatively expensive prices. I left the farm with a feeling of hope, but also with a number of  questions about this being a model or an ideal for our agriculturally troubled society.

Although the barn has taken the mission of spreading awareness about food and sustainable agriculture, it caters its food to a very specific population, mainly the higher class who can pay the price of the expensive food. If we are employing the principle of biodynamics say, to the entire country, (maybe even the world) wouldn’t it be necessary to spread access to healthy foods to everyone? Is it a ludicrous idea? I think not, and although it can seem like an impossible task, too costly, too difficult, if someone doesn’t begin with an idea of inclusiveness, then all attempts to ameliorate the problems in society will remain in the hands of a few–a secret to the rest of the population.

The greenhouse sustains fresh greens and roots all year round. These are some of the sweetest carrots I have ever encountered in my life

Soy: 15 Myths and Facts to Blow your Mind

Posted in Environmental Concerns, Freaky Food, World Food on November 5, 2009 by alejandracuellar

Myth: Use of soy as a food dates back many thousands of years.

Truth: Soy was first used as a food during the late Chou dynasty (1134-246 BC), only after the Chinese learned to ferment soy beans to make foods liketempeh, natto and tamari.

Myth: Asians consume large amounts of soy foods.

Truth: Average consumption of soy foods in Japan and China is 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) per day. Asians consume soy foods in small amounts as a condiment, and not as a replacement for animal foods.

Myth: Modern soy foods confer the same health benefits as traditionally fermented soy foods.

Truth: Most modern soy foods are not fermented to neutralize toxins in soybeans, and are processed in a way that denatures proteins and increases levels of carcinogens.

Myth: Soy foods provide complete protein.

Truth: Like all legumes, soy beans are deficient in sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cystine. In addition, modern processing denatures fragile lysine.

Myth: Fermented soy foods can provide vitamin B12 in vegetarian diets.

TruthThe compound that resembles vitamin B12 in soy cannot be used by the human body; in fact, soy foods cause the body to require more B12

Myth: Soy formula is safe for infants.

Truth: Soy foods contain trypsin inhibitors that inhibit protein digestion and affect pancreatic function. In test animals, diets high in trypsin inhibitors led to stunted growth and pancreatic disorders. Soy foods increase the body’s requirement for vitamin D, needed for strong bones and normal growth. Phytic acid in soy foods results in reduced bioavailabilty of iron and zinc which are required for the health and development of the brain and nervous system. Soy also lacks cholesterol, likewise essential for the development of the brain and nervous system. Megadoses of phytoestrogens in soy formula have been implicated in the current trend toward increasingly premature sexual development in girls and delayed or retarded sexual development in boys.

Myth: Soy foods can prevent osteoporosis.

Truth: Soy foods can cause deficiencies in calcium and vitamin D, both needed for healthy bones. Calcium from bone broths and vitamin D from seafood, lard and organ meats prevent osteoporosis in Asian countries-not soy foods.

Myth: Modern soy foods protect against many types of cancer.

Truth: A British government report concluded that there is little evidence that soy foods protect against breast cancer or any other forms of cancer. In fact, soy foods may result in an increased risk of cancer.

Myth: Soy foods protect against heart disease.

Truth: In some people, consumption of soy foods will lower cholesterol, but there is no evidence that lowering cholesterol improves one’s risk of having heart disease.

Myth: Soy estrogens (isoflavones) are good for you.

Truth: Soy isoflavones are phyto-endocrine disrupters. At dietary levels, they can prevent ovulation and stimulate the growth of cancer cells. Eating as little as 30 grams (about 4 tablespoons) of soy per day can result in hypothyroidism with symptoms of lethargy, constipation, weight gain and fatigue.

Myth: Soy foods are safe and beneficial for women to use in their postmenopausal years.

Truth: Soy foods can stimulate the growth of estrogen-dependent tumors and cause thyroid problems. Low thyroid function is associated with difficulties in menopause.

Myth: Phytoestrogens in soy foods can enhance mental ability.

Truth: A recent study found that women with the highest levels of estrogen in their blood had the lowest levels of cognitive function; In Japanese Americans tofu consumption in mid-life is associated with the occurrence of Alzheimer’s disease in later life.

Myth: Soy isoflavones and soy protein isolate have GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status.

Truth: Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) recently withdrew its application to the FDA for GRAS status for soy isoflavones following an outpouring of protest from the scientific community. The FDA never approved GRAS status for soy protein isolate because of concern regarding the presence of toxins and carcinogens in processed soy.

Myth: Soy foods are good for your sex life.

Truth: Numerous animal studies show that soy foods cause infertility in animals. Soy consumption enhances hair growth in middle-aged men, indicating lowered testosterone levels. Japanese housewives feed tofu to their husbands frequently when they want to reduce his virility.

Myth: Soy beans are good for the environment.

Truth: Most soy beans grown in the US are genetically engineered to allow farmers to use large amounts of herbicides.

The Era of Soy Imperialism and what your tofu is not telling you

Posted in Environmental Concerns, World Food on November 5, 2009 by alejandracuellar

“The American Soybean Association is promoting “analogue” dals–soybean extrusions shaped into pellets that look like black gram, green gram, pigeon pea, lentil and kidney bean. The diet they envision would be a monoculture of soybean; only its appearance would be diverse.”

                                                                                     -Vandana Shiva

It’s a strange thing that diversity is being artificially reproduced in this way: it’s as if we were removing our eyes out of our faces only to replace them with glass eyes that resemble our old ones.   

soy products

To begin to talk about this the silent conquest of the soybean I propose two questions: what has been the process of soy taking over the system? What has been lost to the growing dependence of soy? 
The first question begins with the diminishing diversity in our global society. In our incredibly diverse world, different climates, soils and plants give rise to particular food cultures. The fact is that the modern industrial agriculture systems would rather erase the complex indigenous ways and simplify to create mono-cultures of a a few types of food. The soybean has become one of these ‘super-foods’ that have been manipulated to erase the notion of diversity in food. Soy is now infiltrated in about 60% of all food products in the market. 

Vandana Shiva’s Stolen Harvest depicts the case of the mustard seed oil tragedy in India. She talks about the importance of this indigenous oil to the Bengalis, starting from the central place  as the main flavoring in the local cuisine in many regions, to the medicinal value, to women’s roles in cultivating the land to acquire the mustard seeds, and to the way in which smaller community based systems function efficiently and ensure food security. In 1998 there was a mysterious contamination of the mustard oil: in the name of ‘food safety,’ the community-based systems of food and health safety were quickly dismantled and note, quickly replaced by soy bean oil imports.  

Who has been made to believe they should eat soy, and what are soy products marketed as? Health food, meat is bad, soy can save you, you need not worry anymore.